This is the first part of a series of articles on the above subject.
The education sector of India is in a state of disrepair. Over 6 decades of utter neglect from successive Union & State Governments and education regulators has allowed mediocrity or worse to flourish in a sector which can make or break India’s potential fortunes. India has the youngest population with 65% of Indian population below the age of 35 years and if we have to reap the benefits of this huge demographic dividend and emerge as a superpower within the next decade, this young population has to be provided education which focuses on skills, innovation, research and entrepreneurship. Else, India shall plunge into chaos and the likely consequences are not desirable for anyone who loves India.
To place things in perspective, India 2014 has over 1.2 million schools, about 12000 junior colleges, about 9500 undergraduate colleges and about 650 Universities affiliated to UGC. Every year about 2.5 crore students start their school education by securing admission in Std.1 but hardly 1.3 crore students appear in Std.10. About 72 lakh students complete Std.12 but only about 14 lakh students enrol themselves in various undergraduate programs like BE, MBBS, BSc, BCom, BA, B.Ed., BCS, BBA, Law etc. Thus, the gross enrollment ratio of the country is a dismal 19%.
The stated figures reveal that only 50% of students who join school reach till Std.10. Again, only hardly 50% of those who study till Std.10 secure admission in junior colleges. The most disturbing trend is that out of all those who complete junior college education till Std.12 only 19% of them join senior undergraduate college to pursue a degree.
So, the first serious challenge is to get more and more students to complete their education. This is the first challenge in education sector in India which experts call as the problem of access. The Government can play a major role in solving this problem by simplifying rules for starting and running an educational institution and making the entire process of inspection, accreditation, affiliation and evaluation fair, transparent and simple. Today, the rules are hazy and discourage private players without political contacts or financial muscle to start educational institutions. If rules are simplified, it shall encourage many corporate and private players without political blessings to start and run educational institutions.
The second challenge is the deficiency in quality of education in most schools and colleges in India. Quality in education is a profound and comprehensive concept and its context changes as per the specific stage (primary school / secondary school / college etc.), the field of education and of course the broad philosophy of education adopted. India still lacks a credible system of grading / ranking of educational institutions and hence students take admission to schools and colleges based on word-of-mouth or blatant marketing initiatives by educational institutions. There is no credible system of grading and ranking of educational institutions in India yet. Teaching systems adopted in all schools and colleges are teacher-centric and not student-centric. No feedback is taken about teachers with professional ramifications and hence teachers take their jobs as granted. Due to poor quality of education in schools and colleges, a parallel system of private education called Coaching Classes & Tutorials has emerged which has become a whopping 1.5 lakh crore ($ 24 Billion) industry as per ASSOCHAM estimates. The biggest proof of the pathetic quality of Indian schools and colleges is the exponential growth of coaching classes and tutorials throughout India.
To put things in perspective again, there are hardly 2-3 Indian colleges (usually the IITs) which figure in the Top 500 Global College Ranking published by reputed independent agencies. As per a KPMG report, the number of researchers in India per million is estimated to be about 119 as against 663 in China and 4484 in US and above 3000 in each of US, France & Germany. Though over a lakh of Indian students each year obtain a degree in Computer Science or IT or a certificate in programming / software from private institutes, hardly 40 students each year get Ph.Ds in Computers Science & Engineering. Only 15-20% of colleges offering professional courses like Engineering, Medicine, Law, Architecture etc. are known unofficially amongst students as A-grade colleges wherein placements for job + further studies are satisfactory. Rest of the colleges provide sub-standard education and have dismal records of job and further studies placements.
If India has to churn out top-notch professionals from its colleges, it is imperative that the central issue of quality has to be adequately addressed by the Union + State Governments as well as education providers across India. One of the most powerful tools towards achieving universal quality education across India is to harness the power of the internet and tablet / smartphone technology to its fullest by broadcasting recorded lectures of eminent teachers in any particular subject free of charge. These lectures should be accessible free for anyone across the nation – all that is needed is an internet connection and a device. So, if the Government provides high-speed broadband connectivity to every nook and corner of the country and subsidizes the costs of tablets and smartphones, even poor and rural students can benefit from lectures of the best teachers across the country in any field from KG to PG.
The third issue in education is lack of equity. The cost of education in schools and colleges is quite high and hence only a select group of Indian citizens can afford education to all levels. The biggest reason why so many students drop out of schools, colleges and university education is identified as lack of financial strength amongst parents to pay the fees of educational institutions. Problems of equity are further complicated by unscrupulous politicians of the country from all hues and colors by attributing inequity to social backwardness identifiable by caste and not to economic compulsions identifiable by income groups. Thus, the instrument of Reservations has been used and abused in the field of education by narrow-minded politicians to appease their constituencies and have muddied the waters. However, beaming video lectures across the internet as suggested above can play a significant role in resolving the problems of equity. The second mechanism which can be suggested is incentivise the educational loans market via banks, NBFCs and other Govt. agencies. The third mechanism is to fix the higher limit of fees in schools and colleges for various courses and making capitation fees as a punishable offence by law.
It is hoped that the new Union Government under PM Narendra Modi is seized of these triple concerns in the field of education viz. Access, quality & equity and shall take the necessary steps to make education a field where India shall reclaim its lost glory of being the epicenter of quality education. It is time that we aim for universal quality education and not just chant buzzwords like IITs, IIMs only when we talk of education in the Indian context.